Moruroa Atoll

exeter.lab at exeter.lab at
Tue Aug 1 06:28:49 EDT 1995

Original-TO:      hendee at 
Original-Cc:      coral-list at 

Dear Dr. Hendee, 
              Prof. Reinhold Leinfelder suggested we forward  this 
proposal to you on the Moruroa Atoll situation. As you can see  we 
are  calling for a somewhat elaborate environmental  impact  study 
before the tests resume. I wonder whether you would be  interested 
in  supporting this initiative and passing this message on to  any 
of  your colleagues who might be able to help in a  final  project 
design, or indeed add any other elements to the programme. So far, 
we have about 70 signatures from scientists interested in contrib 
uting, ranging through  physicists, geologists and biologists. 

I look forward to hearing from you. 

Best Regards, 

Paul Johnston 

Greenpeace Research Laboratories, 
University of Exeter, 
North Park Road, 
EX4 4QE 

TELEPHONE: 44 1392 263917 
FAX      : 44 1392 263907  

e-mail: Exeter.lab at 

Dear Fellow Scientists, 
                      As   you  are  no doubt  aware,  the  French  
Government   intends  to resume the testing of nuclear weapons  in  
the  S. Pacific at Moruroa Atoll  in September. We are writing  to  
you  because we believe that such testing poses  an   unacceptable   
risk,  both  now and in the future to human health   and  to   the   
wider environment. In addition, it poses a threat to nuclear  non- 

The  implications of the planned  testing  programme have not been  
examined  in relation to the current condition of the test   site.  
Previous  scientific missions, even with access to  limited  data,  
have  raised  serious questions about the safety  of  teh  testing  
programme. We, therefore, believe that there is an urgent need  to  
carry  out a thorough  geological,  hydrological, biological   and   
radiological  assessment  of  the  site in order to have  a   more   
comprehensive understanding  of the effects of past tests and  the  
likely   impact of  a  resumption  of the testing programme.  This  
needs to be carried out prior to any further testing. 

Accordingly   we   are circulating  with  this  letter  the  broad  
outline of  an  independent work  programme  which  we believe  to  
be   a  minimum  required  to establish  the  true  situation.  We  
hope  that  you will be  able  to lend  your   support   to   this   
programme  and  join  the  list  of signatories  that believe this  

work  to be essential. We intend  to  forward this to  the  French  
Authorities in due course. 

In addition, we are in the process of constructing a more detailed  
work  programme based around the general outline. If you have  any  
detailed suggestions for work which would improve the scope of the  
proposed  study or any additions or refinements to it we would  be  
very  grateful to hear from you on this also. Again, the  detailed  
proposal will be submitted to the French Authorities. 

We hope that  you will  feel  able  to lend us  your  support   or   
to  contribute expertise  to  construct the detailed programme  of   
study. In addition, if you know of any other colleagues who  would  
also be prepared to lend their support, we would be very happy  to  

hear from them.   Please contact  Paul Johnston or David  Santillo  
at  the address above,  or alternatively through the  Internet  at  
address: Exeter.lab at 


The president of France, M. Jacques Chirac has recently  announced  
that  France intends to resume the testing of nuclear  weapons  at  
Moruroa  and Fangataufa Atolls in the South Pacific during Septem  
ber. At  the  same time  he has stated that the testing  programme  
carried out  by  France had  no  ecological consequences and  that   
independent   scientists would be invited to observe the tests  to  
prove their safety.  

Nonetheless,   observation of the tests alone is simply  not  ade  
quate  as  an overall assessment of the possible  consequences  of   
resuming  the testing regime. Very few data exist  concerning  the  
impact upon the  atolls  and their environs of  previous   testing   
programmes carried out at the sites. The data that do exist  indi  
cate   grounds for  serious  concerns,  both about the   integrity   
of   the  atoll structure  and the containment of the  radioactive  
products of  the weapons testing.  

To  date there have been more than 120 underground tests in  these  
locations. The degree to which the the fission products from these  
tests will be  contained within the structure of the atoll in  the  
long term is highly uncertain. Effectively, the two sites comprise  
an unregulated dump for radioactive wastes from these  explosions.  
This  has never been subjected to a full, independent  evaluation.  
Several scientific missions to the atolls, all of which have  been  
described as "exploratory" by the scientists concerned, have taken  
place. A common theme to the conclusions reached in these  studies  
is  a call for greater openess and constant vigilance at the  test  
sites.  Moreover,  the  data produced by at  least  two  of  these  
missions  raise  serious questions about the short and  long  term  
containment of radioactivity within the atoll.  

The  scientists taking part in these misions were  well  respected  

and  of  international stature. They were led by  Haroun  Tazieff,  
Prof.   H.  Atkinson  and  Cmdr  Jacques  Cousteau   respectively.  
Nonetheless,  time constraints and logistic  restrictions  severe  
ly  limited   the  scope of these  studies  and  the   information   
obtained  was,  thus, in each case only of a  preliminary  nature.  
Very  little substantial information, therefore, has made its  way  
to the public or  scientific communities as a result of the  work.   
Further,  despite   their limited and hence  inconclusive  nature,   
the   French  Government   has  used  these  studies  to   justify   
continuing   their  testing  programme  and  to  assert  that  the   
tests  are  safe  and contained. 

Considering  this,  there is clearly a need  for  a  comprehensive  
exhaustive  and independent scientific study prior to any  further  
tests. It is important  to recognise  that  such a study does  not  
require  the  disclosure  of militarily   sensitive    information    
concerning    the    weapons themselves.  Hence  there is no  con  
flict  between the  needs  of  a robust  scientific  programme  of  
work  and the  perceived  need  to preserve  militarily  sensitive  
information.  Obviously,  however, the authorities  will  need  to  
grant  access to both sites but it must be emphasised   that   the  
nature  of  the required  programme  does  not conflict  with  the  
interests of national security.  

An environmental assessment of the atolls should apply, as a basic  
minimum,  the  same  criteria  as applied  to  civilian  sites  in  
relation to the short and long term possibilities of environmental  
damage, radioactive escapes and needs for radiological protection.  
In  addition, this assessment should fully acknowledge that  there  
are  inherent  uncertainties in any predictive exercise  and  that  
gaps  exist in the data. Accordingly, a precautionary approach  to  
future  environmental  protection  of the  atolls  and  the  wider  
environment  is required where full weight is given to  scientific  

uncertainty  and  ignorance of the long term consequences  of  the  

It  must  be  recognised by the French Government  that  the  time  
required for a genuine, comprehensive environmental assessment  is  
considerably greater than would be required for simple observation  
of  the  tests  at  the  time  that  they  are  carried  out.  The  
comprehensive nature of the work required implies not only a  long  
lead time for prearation and logistics but also sufficient time to  
execute the actual fieldwork. 

It must also be recognised that a genuine environmental assessment  
can  only take place if there is no restriction on access  to  the  
study  areas. This must be facilitated by the  French  Government.  
Additionally, the Authorities must be prepared to provide the most  
detailed   and  recent  data  available  on  the   structure   and  
geomorpholgy  of the atolls together with the best data  available  
concerning  the  radioactive inventory present.  Such  information  
would  pose  no threat to the national security of France  but  is  
indispensible to the conduct of the study. 

Finally,  a multidisciplinary approach will be required.  This  is  
likely to be a cost intensive process, a judgment supported by the  
large sums of money required to conduct surveys of nuclear wepaons  
production  sites  in the United States. The  resourcing  for  the  
programme  will  need to be supported with  substantial  financing   
and logistic support from the French Government. 

The  following  programme of work suggested in  this  document  is  
designed to take into account various of the concerns attached  to  
past  and planned future weapons testing. It is designed to  be  a  
repeatable  exercise so that the effect of future testing  can  be  
guaged  against present environmental conditions. Central  to  the  
concerns are the possibility of leakage of radionuclides from  the  
test  sites.  Hence  the programme should address  in  detail  the  
possibility that leakage has already occurred and the  possibility  
that  it might do so in the future bearing in mind  the  extremely  
long  half-life  of many of the radioactive  isotopes  involved.It  
must  be recognised by the French Government that  the  scientific  
integrity  of any programme based solely upon observation  at  the  
time of testing is highly suspect. 

The    programme   should  include  inter  alia  the     following   
elements  and a decision on whether to recommence testing or   not  
should  be  based  on  consideration  of  the  results  of    this  
programme,   notwithstanding   other   political   aspects    (ie.  
nuclear proliferation and related issues):  

1)  A full survey of the topography of the atoll using  side  scan  
sonar  and a remotely operated vehicle equipped with  cameras  and  
testing instruments. This will establish the nature and occurrence  
of  any externally visible fissures. These may be  present in  the  

basaltic  parent  material  laid  down  by  aerial  and  submarine  
volcanic  activity  in  which  tests  are  conducted,  or  in  the  
overlying transition zone, dolomite and limestone strata. In  turn  
this   will  allow  an  evaluation,  supplemented   by   empirical  
measurement  of  actual concentrations of  radionuclides,  of  the  
potential   for  release  of  nuclides  from  the  internal   reef  

2) A shallow seismic testing programme to establish the degree  to  
which  the  internal  integrity of the atoll  structure  has  been  
compromised  by previous testing. Such a programme  would  provide  
some information on the degree of internal fissuring of the parent  
and  overlying materials and also contribute substantially  to  an  
evaluation of the potential for radioactive leakage to occur  from  
the  atoll  structure.  Together  with  data  produced  from   the  
visual/sonar  inspection  an evaluation is then  possible  of  the  
potential for serious structural changes in the atoll produced  by  
future weapons testing. 

3)   A   comprehensive  sampling  campaign  to   investigate   the  
concentrations  of  radionuclides in fish,  planktonic  organisms,  
sediments  and coralline structures. Where feasible, samples  will  
also be taken from various locations outside the atoll to  provide  
data  on exsisting background levels. This exercise will  help  to  
establish  whether  radioactive materials have been  released.  It  
will  also  give some indications of the quantities  of  radiation  

released.   By  using  coralline  materials  and   analysing   the  
radionuclides  present in the skeletal matrix, it may be  possible  
to  establish the timing and approximate magnitude of releases  of  
radionuclides in the past. 

4)  An exhaustive determination of the hydrology of the atoll  and  
reef  structure. This should determine the general water  movement  
through  the  various  strata of the  atoll.  Knowledge  of  water  
movements  through the system, the interaction between  fresh  and  
salt water in the reef system, the presence and size of freshwater  
lens  systems will allow a more precise estimate of the  speed  at  
which radionuclides may be carried to the outside environment as a  
result  of failure of these substances to be contained within  the  
reef  structure. In particular the hydrological  relationships  of  
fissures and faults identified by 1 & 2 above and the remnant test  
chambers and the boreholes leading to them is a high priority.  
5)   Following   these  evaluations,  an   epidemiological   study  
integrating  retrospective  and  prospective  elements  should  be  
initiated  to assess the local and regional health impacts of  the  
testing regime, past and present.   

6) A comparison of the potential for radionuclide release from the  
testing  sites  should be made with standards  routinely  enforced  
forinitiated civil nuclear installations. 

Should  a decision to  resume  testing   be taken after this  pro  
gramme  is   carried out and its results  fully   considered,   it   

should be agreed that the programme  be repeated immediately  ater  
the test series has taken place.  


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